We’ve all been there: Aunt Flow shows up and all of the sudden we feel exhausted, cranky, bloated and a little forgetful. Maybe we walk into a room and can’t remember why a few more times than usual. Maybe it’s difficult to come up with creative solutions for work issues during those few days. Maybe we feel as if we’re walking through a thick brain fog every 28 days or so. Most people have heard of the phenomenon “pregnancy brain,” but does “period brain” also exist?
Let’s start by unpacking what “pregnancy brain” means. Expecting parents often report times when they are more forgetful and not as cognitively sharp as when they’re not pregnant. There are significant hormonal changes in the brain of a pregnant person, which may affect spatial memory (or remembering where things are located), and could contribute to a shift in the brain’s evolutionary priorities: the more focus there is on care-taking for the baby, the more likely it is to survive.
But what about when someone is very much NOT pregnant? Menstruation also creates a fluctuation in hormones, but at least one study found that the biological changes did not yield consistent findings that there were memory impairments tied to them. The study only tested 68 women, however, and stated that those who are more sensitive to hormonal changes than the participants tested could see different results, if they were also tested.
Luckily for us, though, menstruation arrives at our door each month with a hefty suitcase of symptoms – which might account for the “period brain” phenomenon. Not only does pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) make us run a gauntlet of fatigue, headaches, irritability, bloating and nausea, but the main event can carry those symptoms with it, as well. These symptoms are suspected to have more of a link to the reported “period brain” issue, rather than direct hormonal effects.
Sleep disturbances before the period begins can put us at a disadvantage, cognitive ability-wise, as can giving in to fatty and salty food cravings. Both of these things can take away that mental edge we need to take on challenging brain tasks. Luckily, addressing each of these known lifestyle factors before they hit can help us prepare: be intentional about your bedtime routine and meal-prep healthy, nourishing dishes when you know Aunt Flow is around the corner. She just may leave “period brain” behind next time.